South of the border, east of Jefferson

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Mexican food is generally synonymous with tacos, burritos, churros, and the like. There’s a kernel of truth to that association, but the reality is that like other nuanced and beautiful ethnic cuisines, Mexican cuisine has been bastardized and adapted to the (North) American palate in a way that gets, at times, pretty far away from the real thing.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that but…

General Tao’s chicken is not a real Chinese dish, fettuccine alfredo is more American than Italian, and most anywhere you would go for tacos in North America would bear little resemblance to a taco you would get on the street in Oaxaca. Mexican restaurants in Windsor – and most of Detroit – have generally been no exception.

Until I stumbled upon The Three Amigos, on the corner of Tecumseh and Jefferson. The place is an imperfect but huge step in the right direction for Mexican food in Windsor.

The tacos immediately establish themselves as pretty close to the real thing. The Mexican style taco is served on a double-wrapped, small corn tortilla (step one), doesn’t have any cheese, (step two), generally being served with onion, cilantro, a lime wedge, and your choice of meat only (step three). A real taco is built around its simplicity and is supposed to showcase the Mexican style meat, primarily, and the house-pressed tortilla secondarily. The tortillas are satisfactory but the meat is damn good. I highly recommend the carnitas (fried pork), and the lengue, (beef tongue).

I would describe beef tongue as a Mexican counterpart to shawarma, with a similar soft, chewy, salty, and savoury flavor. This is a good time to mention another common misconception regarding Mexican food – ground beef is not a thing in reality. Tacos or burritos outside of Mexico seem to exist solely around ground beef, which in reality isn’t a present item in Mexican cuisine, although it is decadent and delicious. Pork is animal of choice in Mexican cuisine, whether it’s fried as carnitas or roasted as al pastor.

Another amazing and traditional Mexican dish that doesn’t get the proper treatment it deserves is pozole. It’s a soup with a smoky, pepper-based broth that serves to accentuate braised pork shoulder. The pozole here, only available on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, is pretty terrific. I would like a little more reduction in the broth for a richer flavour, and a little more smokiness, but the braised pork shoulder was generous in size and as tender as could be.

The Three Amigos still has Mexican food to appease greasier, more familiar cravings, as all tacos can be done “supreme style,” which adds sour cream and all the other fixings we’ve come to crave during our Old El Paso family taco nights. But what it does offer in authenticity balances that perfectly.

My biggest complaint is the lack of serious spice. I’m someone who’s consistently fascinated by spice components in different ethnic foods, and how we react to the differently to them, and Mexican spice is always the one I’ve loved and feared the most. The chili and habanero-based spice profiles are some of the most challenging for me to choke down, and I was looking forward to getting punched out by some white-hot sizzle here. It didn’t happen. I went through the usual motions of asking for the “extra” hot sauce, then asking for the hottest thing they have, and it was a huge letdown. I really anticipated something great and it didn’t happen. The flavour was nice but the heat level was low.

Naturally, I wish they served booze as well, as there’s something romantic to a cheap shot of tequila alongside a platter of Mexican tacos and unbearable spice, but I can forgive that. They have a neat selection of Mexican sodas instead, and the casual atmosphere and courteous service make you feel welcome.

I’ve written several times about Taqueria El Rey, my all-time favourite Mexican restaurant in Detroit, and perhaps the highest compliment I can pay Three Amigos is that it made me think of it. The same kitschy décor, tablecloths covered in plastic wrap, and fun music all help in facilitating Windsor’s best taco experience.